New laws proposed to support domestic violence victims

Bill would be a ‘game-changer’ for victims, says national organisation

Proposed reforms to aid victims of domestic violence will allow victims give evidence through video and protect their anonymity in the courts process.

Proposed reforms to aid victims of domestic violence will allow victims give evidence through video and protect their anonymity in the courts process.

 

Proposed new legislation should make it easier for victims of domestic violence to get barring orders against perpetrators and ban electronic communications if required.

Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald said on Friday the Domestic Violence Bill, which has been approved by Government, would reduce the risk of intimidation to the victim or a witness through the courts process.

The reforms would also allow victims to give evidence through video, protect their anonymity and restrict the people attending the courtroom.

“Domestic violence persists as true horror in too many homes in 21st Century Ireland, ” Ms Fitzgerald said.

“In addition, too many incidents of domestic violence still go unreported. Too many victims are afraid to come forward,” she said.

Ms Fitzgerald said she wanted to tackle domestic violence and let victims know they were not alone.

The proposed law would also make it easier for a victim to get the perpetrator removed from their home.

“The Bill will remove the requirement that a person must have at least an equal interest in a property to apply for an interim barring order (for 8 working days) in an emergency or crisis situation,” Ms Fitzgerald said.

The proposed legislation also includes banning the perpetrator from communicating electronically communications, including through online or phone, with their victim.

The Minister said the Bill was created to improve protections available to the victims.

“It is in the interests of victims that we get this legislation drafted and enacted as soon as possible.”

Ms Fitzgerald said the Bill would bring provisions on domestic violence in one piece of legislation to make it easier to use.

She said it was a “major step” towards Ireland’s ratification of the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence, known as the Istanbul Convention.

She said she would seek the Government’s approval for Ireland to sign the convention in autumn.

A recent EU-wide study on violence against women showed that 12 per cent of Irish women and girls over the age of 15 had experienced stalking, with 50 per cent of that group being stalked, physically and online, by a partner or ex.

Figures from the Women’s Aid Female Homicide Watch showed more than half of 18-25 year old women killed in Ireland since 1996 were murdered by their current or former boyfriend.

Safe Ireland chief executive Sharon O’Halloran, a national organisation for domestic violence, said the proposed legislation would be a “game-changer” in creating a system that would give victims the confidence to know they would be believed and protected.

She said the Bill was well thought-out and a “highly-sensitive piece” of legislation.

“Domestic violence is an enormous problem in Ireland and a problem that is still largely silent. We know that eight out of every ten women who experience abuse never report it,” she said.

“It will strengthen a number of vital provisions to protect victims and will make our courts system more accessible for, and more sensitive to, the very specific needs of women in danger and at risk of intimidation.”

Ms O’Halloran said it was important adequate resources would be given to meet the aspirations within the Bill.

Fianna Fáil spokesman Niall Collins said while welcomed the draft bill and it was a “step forward”.

“I do hope this legislation will assist victims but the Government’s record on this matter is unimpressive,” he said.

“The (Istanbul) Convention was signed in May 2011. We have been calling for full enactment of its proposals in the Dáil for the past three years.”

The full details of the general scheme of the Bill can be viewed here.